Prime minister Boris Johnson is facing an uphill challenge to meet his pledge of a Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) deal ready by the autumn, with Transport for the North (TfN) having missed an early milestone despite being given an extension.
TfN's business plan 2019-2020 stated that one of its key performance indicators was to 'fully agree NPR provision within the HS2 Phase 2b Hybrid Bill by June 2019' - Manchester and Leeds are both key destinations for Phase 2b of HS2 and central to NPR.
It has already missed this target despite the fact that in 2018 the hybrid bill was delayed by over a year to accommodate NPR integration.
The Department for Transport has not yet approved TfN's outline business case for NPR, which was submitted in February of this year.
The sub-national transport body is the key partner to the Government in drawing up the NPR plans.
Mr Johnson has pledged to fund a high speed line from Manchester to Leeds as 'just the beginning of our commitment and our investment', and stressed that he supported the wider MPR plans though local people will be in charge of drawing up the details.
A spokesperson for TfN said: 'Progress has been made to integrate the two projects, with HS2 Ltd consulting on the first of several junctions this summer to help facilitate the proposed new line between Manchester and Liverpool, whilst work on other junctions on the network also takes place.
'Since we submitted the Business Case, there have been several significant changes - not least of all the Prime Minister’s pledge to accelerate and deliver the Manchester to Leeds new line as the first step of Northern Powerhouse Rail, as well as announcing a review of HS2. We’re working closely with the Department of Transport to agree the next steps and the work that needs to be done by Autumn.'
HS2 Ltd said TfN’s proposals for Northern Powerhouse Rail will inform integration with 'our Phase 2b route ahead of the hybrid Bill submission in 2020'.
No shortage of money has been allocated to the development of NPR, with around £100m earmarked since 2016 just for preparing the plans.
TfN spent £14.2m in 2018-2019 alone on preparations and plan to spend close to £30m in 2019-2020. It has already employed extra staff to 'support the NPR programme's pace'.
The £14m actually represented an underspend from the budget of around £18m, which 'principally reflects the reallocation of planned Department for Transport resource from us to HS2', TfN documents revealed.
'This reallocation reflects our close working relationship between the Department for Transport, HS2 and the interdependencies between the two programmes.'
TfN's unaudited accounts said: 'During the year [2018-2019], TfN engaged Network Rail in a number of rail studies in support of the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme. The cost of this activity in year was £11.07m.'
A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: 'We aim to table Phase 2b in 2020, allowing time to best integrate HS2 with both Midlands Rail Hub proposals and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
'Recently we announced proposals for two new junctions which will allow for NPR trains to use HS2’s line and vice versa, which could enable Liverpool to Manchester journeys in 23 minutes.'
HS2's latest public consultation, which is currently underway and closes on 6 September, contains proposals for two future junctions to be built near High Legh in Cheshire, eventually allowing NPR trains to utilise the HS2 line into Manchester.
TfN is also due to prepare a 'mid-way point NPR progress report' for its Board and 'agree indicative delivery phasing for the NPR network' by February 2020.